Jerry Seinfeld once joked about Silver Medalists in the Olympics that after having perhaps the best race of their lives they were asked, “what happened? Did you trip? Did you fall?” It’s just hard for people to believe that someone could be that close to winning and not have had their best day anyway. I’m in the midst of such a journey right now, having finished fourth in the US National Duathlon Championships, people have already asked me such questions as “did you have a flat? Was it a bad day? We’re you not feeling your best?” And to all of those questions, I have to say no. In fact, I did exactly what I set out to do in that race and I’m very happy about it.How can you be happy when you don’t end up the winner? The answer is by setting and achieving goals that are measured by your own performance, rather than by the performance of others. Let me explain as my good friend Coach Dean Hebert explained it to me years ago and give you a three step process for setting objective goals.
First, we start by setting performance goals for ourselves that are both measurable and objective. Goals that are measurable and objective are ones that we can test to determine whether we have actually met them. Some good examples of measurable goals would be be to “run the race in X time”, to come through a race without injury or “to run 5% faster than last year.” All of these are things that we can look at after the race and answer whether we met them with a yes or no question. Contrast this with goals that are subjective such as “I want to do better than last year” or to “go as hard as I can.” Objective and measurable goals are ones that you could ask someone else whether you met or not and with the right data they would be able to answer them correctly.
Second, goals need to be based on your own performance or conditions that are under your own control. This is where the real pitfalls come into play. If you set goals based on someone else’s performance they would include things like this: “I want to win,” “I want to beat my rival,” or “I just don’t want to finish last.” Any of these statements have dependencies on other people in order to measure them and this is where we get in trouble. You can’t control who else shows up for the race and what they do. An Olympic champion might show up some morning at your local race and reasonably blow you and the whole field out of the water, even if you run a the PR performance of your dreams.
So how does one set a goal that reaches to beat the competition but can still be measured and falls under our own control? You take your performance goal and map it to what it is that you would need to do to succeed. For example, rather than saying “I want to win” you would set a goal to “run the race in X time” where that time would be good enough to win based on what you know about the race. You then can measure whether you performed against that goal (“Did I run my goal time?” Yes or no.) If that Olympian shows up and blows you away, well, you’ve still done what you set out to do.
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